The victory was Stenhouse’s fifth of the season and the seventh of his career. He crossed the finish line 2.402 seconds ahead of Kyle Busch, who fell one spot short of posting his first victory in the Nationwide car he owns.
Austin Dillon ran third, followed by Brad Keselowski and Paul Menard. Sadler finished eighth and fell from the top spot in the standings after holding it for a total of 21 weeks in two different stretches this season, including the last 14. With seven races left, Stenhouse leads Sadler by nine points.
Stenhouse’s No. 6 Ford came to life over the final 29-lap green-flag run, giving team owner Jack Roush his first victory at the 1.5-mile track in any of NASCAR’s top three touring series. In winning the race, Stenhouse overcame two mistakes: stalling the car on pit road and an adjustment that adversely affected the handling.
Stenhouse, however, was cautious in claiming the upper hand toward a second straight title.
“The last four races, I think, we’ve finished second, first, second and first, so I think we’ve got good momentum,” Stenhouse said. “But in this business, in this sport, anything can change at any time. You’ve got to keep your guard up, and you’ve got to keep not making mistakes.
“We’re very fortunate that we overcame the mistakes that we had today, both on pit road — a wrong adjustment and a stalled car. We overcame that today, and that’s what we need to keep doing. But as we keep going, we’ve got to make sure we don’t make those mistakes. I feel like the 2 car (Sadler) is not done winning, and I don’t feel like we’re done winning either. We’re just going to have to stay on our ‘A’ game.”
Ninth-place finisher and polesitter Joey Logano took the lead under caution on Lap 124 for Benny Gordon’s accident in Turn 3. Logano beat Dillon off pit road by six inches and led the field to a restart.
Stenhouse lost seven spots when his car stalled in the pits and took the green flag in the 11th position but gradually worked his way back through the field. By the time the race reached Lap 150, Stenhouse had passed Sadler for the third position.
Busch grabbed the top spot shortly after the restart on Lap 130 and pulled away to a lead of 1.5 seconds as Logano faded. Busch, Dillon and Stenhouse staged a three-car breakaway during that green-flag run, but a caution for Jason Bowles’ spin in Turn 3 on Lap 167 shuffled the running order.
With a 12.5-second stop for four tires and fuel, Sadler was first off pit road on Lap 168 and led Busch to a restart on Lap 172. Busch quickly reassumed the lead while Sadler dropped back to sixth by Lap 177.
Stenhouse, however, moved past Busch on Lap 180 and quickly established an advantage of more than a second.
The racing action aside, the real drama surrounded the Richard Childress Racing teams of Dillon and Sadler. Though he has been in or near the championship lead for the entire season, Sadler announced recently that he will leave RCR at the end of the season.
As Sadler and Dillon raced hard in traffic, Dillon’s crew chief, Danny Stockman, radioed to Dillon, “You will not help the 2 car tonight.” Dillon is third in points, 34 behind Stenhouse and still a contender for the championship, but the emphatic nature of Stockman’s admonition was surprising.
“We were just racing hard for the championship right there,” Dillon said. “We were racing hard by Sam (Hornish Jr.), or whoever it was, and the 2 went with the other guy when we could have used a push. That’s all it is, racing hard for a championship…
“Everybody’s worked up about it, RCR as a group working for a championship. We’re both wanting to win. We had to beat the 6 (Stenhouse), so we couldn’t help each other at all today. Did it hurt us? Not much, because the 6 was that much faster. It’s just racing hard. I don’t know what else to say–just part of the game, I guess.”
After the race, Sadler was mystified.
“I don’t know what that means, ‘Do not help the 2,’” he said when told of the exchange between Stockman and Dillon. “We share really good notes, and we always have, so I don’t know.”